First Person Accounts (FPA’s) are meant to provide a first-hand account of law graduates who have pursued, or are pursuing, a post-graduate course (an LLM or otherwise) from different universities across the world.

Madhumitha D Selvakumar

In this FPA, Madhumitha Dharmapuri Selvakumar discusses her LLM experience at Cornell Law School, the LLM application process, and a whole lot more.

How early on (in your undergrad) did you decide to enrol for a foreign LLM? And when did you begin the application process?

Well, believe it or not, I didn’t have the faintest idea about pursuing Masters abroad, when I set off my fifth year at Tamil Nadu National Law University, Tiruchirapalli India.

When my friends were discussing about internships at big law firms or passing the Bar, I was at a point in life where I had to stop all the fun and narrow my interest to pursue the career I desired in Intellectual property and entertainment law.

Up until that moment, I hadn’t heard or even knew of many successful entertainment/media lawyers in the South of India to capture an opportunity for work, maybe that was just my diligence. The road forked in various directions with overwhelming thoughts as I contemplated my next move.

But by the end of the first month, I knew with complete conviction that I needed to fine-tune my knowledge in the above mentioned area of law. I heeded to the impression that my soft skills and my knowledge were lacking the edge thereof to pursue a successful career in India. Like most kids, I discussed about my life after law school with my mentors and parents but the best advice came from the person who knew me better.

It was my dad who pushed me to pursue a Masters’ course abroad. After much deliberation, I decided to take on his advice as it suited my goals. While preparing for mid-semester exams around the time of early July, I began the prep for applying to law schools abroad.

What were some of the criteria used to narrow down on schools to apply for? And how did you end up choosing Cornell? 

I researched about goal-oriented law programs, the stats, the resources, reviews from alumni and narrowed my target countries to: Singapore, U.K and U.S.A. It was long process than how the sentence seems; it nearly took two to two and half months of research in my case to appraise the documents and weightage of opportunities for growth.

I roped in my brother who also had similar interest to pursue his Masters abroad to get an insight of peculiarities of specific Universities, the advantages and disadvantages of pursuing law in each country, including the visa process for each country.

By now, you probably can get a hold of my decision-making process. I always tend to narrow the possibilities to match my goals, to get a better perspective. This ultimately played a good role in deciding the law schools that best suited my goals.

I concluded my application process by applying for about five to six Universities. I got three acceptance offers back and choosing Cornell was an easy choice for me in particular because it accommodated all of my checklists.

I love research and paper publishing my work for resource. Cornell was the best suited university for the same, it is specifically a research-oriented university, it had resources and connections with established and renowned professionals that will mould and train with the best student lot.

Hearing from alumni, I was taken on board that the students are as talented or always one step ahead of you, which intrigued me to be part of its thrilling environment for progress. Cornell was also an option which was not too academically heavy, it gave a platform for various extracurricular activities as well.

I am a person who gets involved in multiple organisations not related to academics, which is really funny because my parents were expecting the opposite. I am into dance, communications and other related activities.

Upon exploring Cornell’s website and social media pages I stumbled upon hundreds of clubs, many suiting my interests. This checked the list.

However, final ultimatum that sealed the deal was the Campus! Cornell is surrounded by nature, and the population of Ithaca is majorly students both from Cornell and Ithaca College, which was perfect in my case to mingle and get close with my batch.

Any advice on how to go about the application process itself? More specifically, how did you prepare the statement of interest?

Looking back at the application process, I would suggest for potential LLM students, to start researching and exploring options early on. By the end of fourth or beginning of fifth year they should be ready to start applying. I made the mistake of waiting a tad bit too long to start the process, which added pressure.

Navigating through pressure and stressful situations might waver decision making skills similar to that of panic buying, which definitely should be avoided.

Upon narrowing the decision on the universities, I’d suggest to prepare the professors providing letter of recommendation in advance with an insight of the application process, the recommendation format and discuss elaborately on how you want to be portrayed to the school. The professors usually have a rough idea, but using the same standard format will not set you apart, so I highly suggest having one on one meetings.

Discuss with the professors on the strengths, academic and non-academic achievements, research and performance in class that needs to be part of the letter of recommendation.

As for the Statement of Purpose, it is a playground that decides whether the candidate fits right in with the university’s goal and purpose. It basically as I understand, answers the question of what you could bring to the university, what kind of asset are you, what is your potential contribution to the community and what sets you apart from the other likely candidates.

While it might seem a lot, it is basically you framing a document about your best self. I recommend writing your positives, strengths and your goals. Get hold of a template, read different statement of purposes from previous LLM students or other degrees and choose a template that best portrays your language and your style. From then, there is going to be lot of drafting, redrafting and reviewing.

Peer review the statement of purpose and be ready to receive comments(both good and bad) because at the end of the day, it is going to help improve your shot at your dream university.

Looking back, what were some of the bigger differences in the learning experiences at TNNLU and Cornell? Again, with the benefit of hindsight, what have been some of the most rewarding aspects of the Cornell LLM?

TNNLU was my stepping stone to where I am right now. My undergrad was a long 5 years integrated program of B.Com and LLB (hons). It in literal sense sharpened my management between academics and personal growth. I understood the importance of socializing, being present in discussions and actively participating in organisations which helped in securing internships.

The range of courses varied from basic Indian laws to specializations in IP, Space and other cohorts. The professors were skilled and really helpful in guiding with my research and projects in my specializations. I would like to give a shout out to one particular professor without whom I wouldn’t be specializing in IP, abroad.

Prof. Mahindra Prabu was my intellectual property law professor. His knowledge, teaching methodology, researching skills and approach were top notch. His guidance helped me in my research and framing the skeleton of my first paper publication which was later published at an international conference in Singapore. In all-inclusiveness, TNNLU laid the base path to achieve my aspirations.

Deciding to pursue masters in Cornell was the best decision for my career. Cornell’s resource, professors, students, course structure, management and its involvement in student affairs were remarkable.

As a researcher, I had the opportunity to exploit various materials and tap into communal perceptions and discourse to enrich my knowledge. This helped in publishing another paper for Journal of Intellectual Property Rights. The first semester was hybrid due to Covid and even though it was a bit difficult to experience full lifestyle of Cornell, we made the best out of it, by socializing in the discussion zoom meetings and occasional gatherings.

The 2021 batch had students from different countries, cultures, ethnicity and race, which was fascinating to interlace and learn. The community overall was enriching and vibing with different ideologies and beliefs. The academics at Cornell was focused on intellectual property law and entertainment in my second semester, which was in person. I had the opportunity to observe the class room settings, the discussions, the teaching methodology.

The biggest difference from TNNLU to Cornell would be the community I was part of. The growth, the knowledge and the intellectual discussions was placed in variable magnitude that supported my endeavours.

Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is considering a master’s abroad? 

An advice for all the graduates from my experience would be to follow the basic principle of less is more.

Don’t overdo the applications, don’t overthink probabilities and make sure you know what you are perceiving to gain from the program when you are applying to a particular school. This will make the process easier to proceed further while drafting the statement of purpose.

Also, it is okay if at present you are unsure of what you want to do in life, it is okay to make decisions and learn from them, it is also okay to slow down and take time for yourself but at the end of every curve, always look for opportunities to improve yourself, to be the better version of yourself.

Make sure to revamp- the positives, the negatives and the constants. To have empathy for yourself and understand that law program can be exhaustive.

I would like to convey my kudos to you for considering an opportunity to pursue LLM abroad. That process in itself is a step towards success. You have already made it this far; it takes just a little bit more.

I wish all the aspiring lawyers, graduates, students and professionals, the very best.